x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Valuing the nation's manual workforce

The speed of Government action to help a group of unpaid workers is a welcome sign of responsiveness. But as shocking jobsite accident figures from Ajman show, workers need a lot of protection

How many times have we heard stories of unpaid construction workers languishing without recourse, unable to return to their home countries but with no legal avenue to recoup lost wages? In recent years we've simply lost count.

Which is why efforts by the government in Abu Dhabi to push one contractor on Reem Island to pay up were so welcome as an indicator of a new urgency in such casees.

As The National is reporting this week the Ministry of Labour has begun ordering Al Rajhi Projects to compensate their workers, some of whom haven't seen a dirham since April.

On Monday, a handful of them went on strike. Yesterday, following Government intervention, paycheques were beginning to roll in. Rarely do bureaucracies move with such speed and efficiency.

Of course, this one instance should not be seen as the end of the line for improving the lot of the nation's manual workforce. Rather, it should be taken as proof that Government officials are serious about turning the chapter on a troubled past. Yet there is much still to do.

Indeed, while some 400 construction workers in Abu Dhabi see their concerns about pay answered, we worry about the safety of their brethren elsewhere.

Consider the staggering numbers of workplace safety issues in Ajman. In the first six months of this year, as we reported yesterday, workers there suffered over 1,600 construction site injuries and 40 deaths.

The causes of these accidents are varied, but we are certain of one thing: the numbers are dreadfully high. Reducing them should be the priority of everyone working in this sector.

Perhaps the numbers wouldn't be so high if Ajman had more sophisticated construction site regulations or stricter enforcements of safety measures. Here federal assistance might be necessary.

But employers and Government don't bear full responsibility. Often it is workers who neglect to wear headgear or harnesses, even when they are provided. There should be fines for failing to use them.

Ultimately, the UAE will be built by these labourers. Looking after them, by making sure they are paid and protected, is the least the nation can provide.